I have never thought of myself as the best American. From a very young age, I took every opportunity I could to travel overseas and I never tired of being away, the further the better.
When traveling in Mexico, I would cringe when American’s would raise their voices, thinking that would help the Mexican people understand English more clearly. I learned how to say, “I don’t speak French” in Swedish, while on our honeymoon, so the Parisians would not know I was American. I was not a proud American because I didn’t understand what it meant to be an American, until very recently.
The inspiration for leaving on this journey at this time was born from an opportunity to apply for dual Italian-American Citizenship. Once we discovered that we could give our kids citizenship to the 27 countries that make up the European Union, as well as their United States Citizenship, we were already one foot out the door, as any “less than enthusiastic” American would be! Little did I know, this process of duel citizenship, would ignite in me an intense appreciation for what it means to be American.
We decided to visit my husband’s family on the East Coast on our way to Italy. It has always been a dream of mine to show our kids The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I wanted to show them where their relatives first entered this country and what it meant to them to become American, but the truth is, I didn’t know myself.
As we boarded the ferry toward Liberty Island, and approached The Beautiful Lady as she is often named, I started to cry. There was a recording on the audio tour, “The definition of Liberty is the condition of being free from restriction or control. The right and power to act, believe, or express oneself in a manner of one’s own choosing.” I know this idea of liberty meant something very different to our ancestors who immigrated but the concept of liberty, with its inherent accountability and risk, washed over me and I was overcome, 100 years later, for very different reasons. The audio tour continued, “Her right foot is raised, as if she is continually on the move, facing the old world and beckoning people to the new. The fire in her torch symbolizing knowledge and light.”
As the tears continued to fall, I realized we were exercising the same liberty offered to new Americans, to become more informed citizens of the world. Had our ancestors not risked their lives to get to America, had we not been born with this entitled sense of freedom, I am certain we would not be able to dream as big as we have to make leaving on this journey possible.
I am so grateful to be a United States Citizen because it has given me the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I will do my best to represent our country with the humility and grace it deserves, as we go back toward the old world, leaving the new behind, at least for now.